Book Review of
Syria’s Secret Library
Daraya lies on the fringe of Damascus, just southwest of the Syrian capital. Yet for four years it lived in another world. Besieged by government forces early in the Syrian Civil War, its people were deprived of food, bombarded by heavy artillery, and under the constant fire of snipers. But deep beneath this scene of frightening devastation lay a hidden library. While the streets above echoed with shelling and rifle fire, the secret world below was a haven of books.
Long rows of well-thumbed volumes lined almost every wall: bloated editions with grand leather covers, pocket-sized guides to Syrian poetry, and no-nonsense reference books, all arranged in well-ordered lines. But this precious horde was not bought from publishers or loaned by other libraries–they were the books salvaged and scavenged at great personal risk from the doomed city above.
The story of this extraordinary place and the people who found purpose and refuge in it is one of hope, human resilience, and above all, the timeless, universal love of literature and the compassion and wisdom it fosters.
Would you risk your life for a book? That is the exact story that Syria’s Secret Library shares. In the middle of war-torn Daraya, a secret library existed. That library proved the importance of books and the difference they can make. They change people. They give people hope. They educate and inspire.
In the middle of a city devastated by war, people risked their lives to save books and bring them to a library that everyone could use. A “safe” place, full of books, was created as a refuge to those fighting to survive.
Syria’s Secret Library will probably be one of my favorite nonfiction books of 2021. I can’t stop thinking about it or talking about it.
It made me step back and think about how much I truly take my bookshelf full of books for granted. We think that so much about the last year has been challenging, and it has, but did you have to risk your life for a book? I know I didn’t and I doubt you did either.
In America, we have bookshelves full of books. We have libraries and bookstores full of books. We can have a book on just about any subject in our hands within days of wanting it. Syria’s Secret Library put life in perspective, and I doubt I will ever look at my books the same again.